Caden Clark celebrates his first MLS goal. (Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports)
ATLANTA – What a way to start a Major League Soccer career.
Earlier Saturday, Calen Clark signed an MLS contract to play with the Red Bulls.
Later that night, not only did the 17-year-old make his league debut, but also scored for the Red Bulls in a 1-0 victory over Atlanta United at an empty Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Red Bulls (7-8-2, 23 points), who moved into sixth place in the Eastern Conference, remained unbeaten in eight regular season matches against Atlanta (6-0-2). They haven’t lost here as well during the season (3-0-1). Atlanta (18) fell to 5-9-3 on the season.
“It was a business trip for sure, because we knew, the last outing hurt us so bad, in our building, and we knew we had to bounce back,” Red Bulls interim head coach Bradley Carnell said. “So yeah, proud of the boys, not too much time to celebrate this victory, but its massive for sure.
“It feels good right now but again, there’s a lot more work to do, it wasn’t perfect. Can we build a level of consistency, now.”
In his first game back after missing almost a month with a hip injury, goalkeeper Ryan Meara recorded the shutout. He wasn’t severely tested until the third minute of second-half stoppage time, when he twice denied Jon Gallagher inside the penalty area to preserve the win and clean sheet.
“It is kind of the life of a goalkeeper,” Meara said. “It was a relatively quiet game for me, a couple crosses but nothing too crazy. You expect that your number is going to be called in a big moment.”
But the big story was the performance of Clark, whose MLS rights were acquired by the Red Bulls from Minnesota United FC in exchange for $75,000 in General Allocation Money.
He was inserted into the Starting XI and he certainly did not disappoint, connecting after a so-so Atlanta clearance in the 47th minute.
Davis lofted a corner kick into the box that was cleared out of the box.
The ball came to the teenager and Clark fired a shot into the lower right corner to continue his improbable day.
“The first half it took him five, ten minutes to get into the groove of what now the MLS is all about, but then he found the groove, started picking up spots, started making passes, started making plays, and his confidence grew,” Carnell said.
Guzan complained to referee Jair Marrufo, claiming that the Red Bulls’ Daniel Royer was offside, but the game official never looked at VAR.
Asked if he received an explanation on the goal, Atlanta interim head coach Stephen Glass replied: “No explanation was given. You can ask them, but they don’t really speak to you after the game tobe honest. But, for me the biggest issue is that I believe it’s offside and one of the top referees in the country chooses not to look at it on the monitor. The guy is one of the best referees in the country but does not go and look at the incident, when there is opportunity to do so. No other explanation.”
— Red Bull New York (@NewYorkRedBulls) October 10, 2020
Besides Meara, the Red Bulls had another familiar face back in the lineup Captain and midfielder Sean Davis, who was sidelined for seven games since suffering a knee injury in a 1-0 loss to D.C. Sept. 2.
Atlanta midfielder Marcelino Moreno, a designated player, performed with his new teammates for the first time even though he never training with them. He had to quarantine for 10 days after joining the MLS club from Lanus (Argentina).
Moreno was replaced by Adam Jahn in the 61st minute. Five minutes later, Jared Stroud subbed for Clark.
There really wasn’t much to talk about for either team in the opening half.
In fact, Atlanta enjoyed a superior statistical edge, enjoying 69 percent possession and outshooting the Red Bulls, 5-1. Neither team, however, did not place a shot on target.
The closest Atlanta came to scoring was when Daniel Royer tried to clear Jake Mulraney’s shot in the 38th minute, only to see it bound off the left post and out of bounds for a corner kick.
The direction of the match changed in the 47th minute, when Royer fired a shot on which Guzan had to make a diving save.
Seconds later, Guzan was taking the ball out of the back of the net after Clark’s first MLS goal.
At 17 years and 134 days, Clark became the third youngest MetroStar/Red Bull to score in the team’s 25-year history. Eddie Gaven (16 years, 253 days) is the youngest.
There was little doubt the Red Bulls had woke in the second half.
Dru Yearwood almost scored an insurance goal in the 85th minute as he rammed a shot off the left post.